James Davidson, CEO of Davidson Environmental, got his start in the waste industry 30 years ago working for Waste Management. After the company lost its residential contract in the town where he worked, he decided to strike out on his own and start Davidson Environmental. He went out and purchased a used garbage truck from the City of Toronto and started with that and six bins. This year, his company has done $4M in business and has 14 trucks on the road 24/7.
Finding a Specialty
The organic recycling company’s niche lies in its cart exchange program. It doesn’t just show up to a customer, dump waste into its trucks, and move on. Instead, it takes the whole cart away and switches it for a fresh, clean one. This eliminates smell and dirty carts or bins.
“This works well for places that place a high value on cleanliness like food factories, hospitals, and homes for the elderly,” he said.
They company also has a food waste de-packaging machine that can separate food waste from its packaging, from old cans of ravioli to glass jars of pickles and ketchup packets. There was a time when people used to do this by hand, but with the current labor shortage, grocery stores are lucky to get people to show up and stock shelves. This simplifies the process and saves time.
Breaking it Down
The company uses full-size Hino trucks as its customer service vehicles that pick up carts from customers because they're “bulletproof…maintenance wise, they don't break down,” according to Davidson.
“I have several units that have a million-plus miles on them and are still going strong. I can't wait until they produce the hydrogen electric ones they are touting,” he mentioned.
End-use wise, once the product comes to homebase and gets de-packaged and ready to go, the company uses Kenworth truck trailer units to deliver loads to the anaerobic digester (a process through which bacteria break down organic matter—such as animal manure, wastewater biosolids, and food wastes—in the absence of oxygen) companies they work with.
Generating Electricity (and Revenue)
Davidson Environmental uses food waste to generate electricity through the gases it emits. The company lets the food waste rot and then captures the natural gas that comes off it.
“The natural gas in your furnace has been cleaned through a process to about 94% cleanness, whereas landfill gas is about 65%. The other percentage of what you're smelling is nitrogen, methane, and ammonia. We take that gas, put it into a specially designed internal combustion engine, and push that electricity right back into the grid and get paid for it,” he explained.
According to Davidson, it costs about the same amount of money to clean natural gas to a state where you can put it right back into the grid and houses use it as it does to buy the engine and hook it up to the electrical grid.
The company also just agreed to start using a truck that runs off of the compressed natural gas it generates. It can put it right back into the truck, making Davidson Environmental even more self-sustaining.
Tapping into Tech
Davidson Environmental uses Geotab in its Hino vehicles, including Drivewyze PreClear, a weigh station bypass service. Drivewyze offers the service throughout the U.S., but also has an Ontario‐only bypass subscription.
According to Davidson, there are six weigh stations that dot the logistics map where Davidson trucks run in Ontario (Drivewyze offers bypass opportunities at 44 weigh stations in Ontario).
“One is located 15 minutes away, near Niagara Falls,” he said. “Before Drivewyze, we were following all the other trucks into weigh stations, which meant a seven- or eight-minute delay at the inspection site. But, if the inspector decided he or she wanted to conduct a Level 1 inspection, it would trigger up to a 1‐1/2 hour stop. That made things tough on our longer runs where we run around 12 hours. Throw in bad weather, and our hours got awfully tight.”
As a former driver himself, Davidson immediately saw the benefit of using his company’s good safety record in the form of weigh station bypasses, which has meant up to 26 bypasses in one month for one of Davidson’s drivers.
“We have a bypass rate upwards of 95%,” he said. “While the bypasses our drivers receive help save us time and money and keep us moving, the biggest benefit to me is helping our driver retention. Drivers like to drive and not knowing the detention time when entering a weigh station can be unsettling.”
“It’s a big benefit, no doubt,” said James MacEachern, who has been driving for Davidson Environmental for the past 3‐plus years. “Drivers appreciate the company providing the service – it makes our job easier. This last Saturday, for example, I drove for 13‐1/2 hours and bypassed three weigh stations in London (twice – eastbound and westbound) and Vineland. In the old days, I would have had to pull in automatically if the weigh station was open. That would have cut my day close to exceeding my 14 hours. Drivewyze really helps out, especially on our longer runs.”
His advice for other truckers looking to maybe start their own business is simple: Under promise and over deliver; be honest and accountable; and don't be afraid to charge for the service you provide.